While HBO Max is still set to launch on time, despite the coronavirus pandemic, the new WarnerMedica streaming platform will be without the marquee Friends reunion special. All 10 seasons of the beloved '90s series will be available, but production on the blockbuster reunion special was put on hold last month. WarnerMedia was banking on the special to be a big draw for the new streaming platform, shelling out a reported $20 million to bring back the entire cast.
A source close to the situation told Variety WarnerMedia will not be able to have it ready to go for HBO Max's May launch. Some talk shows and other programs have used technology like Zoom and other video chatting platforms to stay in production while social distancing, that option is not being considered for the Friends special. After all, that would defeat the purpose of the special, which was to give fans a chance to see Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer in the same room again, 16 years after the finale aired. WarnerMedia also planned to film the special on the same Warner Bros. Studio lot in Burbank, California where the show was filmed.
After months of speculation, WarnerMedia officially announced the reunion special in February. "Guess you could call this the one where they all got back together," HBO Max Chief Content Officer Kevin Reilly said in a statement at the time. "I became aware of Friends when it was in the very early stages of development and then had the opportunity to work on the series many years later and have delighted in seeing it catch on with viewers generation after generation. It taps into an era when friends -- and audiences -- gathered together in real-time and we think this reunion special will capture that spirit, uniting original and new fans."
Although the reunion special will only feature the cast members sitting on the set and reminiscing, it will still cost WarnerMedia big money to stage. The special will cost a reported $20 million, with each member of the cast being paid between $3 million and $4 million each to participate. Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane will executive produce the special. Ben Winston will direct and executive produce. Production was delayed on March 18.
Friends has been unavailable to stream with a subscription anywhere for the past four months, since it left Netflix. WarnerMedia reportedly spent over $400 million to get the streaming rights for the series. Although the show was produced between 1994 and 2004, Nielsen said it was the most-watched show on Netflix at one point.
There is still no set launch date for HBO Max in May, but WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-to-Consumer chief strategy officer Sean Kisker told Variety everything is still on track. "It's hard enough to launch a streaming service, never mind in the middle of a pandemic," he said. "So starting two years ago, when this thing kicked off, there’s been a pretty constant stream of effort, and the team has run basically at one speed. We really haven't missed a beat from a remote-working POV."